Why on earth would a couple of Americans move to El Salvador to live?
The short answer is we are a little bit crazy and a bit adventurous and we wanted to experience living in Central America (Probably just like you since you are reading this)
The long answer is still evolving and not exactly set in stone. (nothing is ever set in stone in Central America!)
We moved to El Salvador in April, 2011 from the San Francisco Bay Area of California. We ran a successful artisan coffee roasting business there which we have since sold. We traveled a lot to coffee countries to buy coffee direct from farmers and basically fell in love with the country and the people of El Salvador.
Currently we are working on a few interesting businesses in El Salvador but mostly just figuring out how to live in Central America. El Salvador is not exactly on the top of most people’s minds when it comes to tourism or even living, however El Salvador is going through a period of intense discovery. Both internally by Salvadorans rediscovering what a great country it is and a excellent place to live and by expats and tourist visitors. (Check out the Lonely Planet top ten places to visit of 2010 about El Salvador)
El Salvador is typical of most countries in Latin America and has its inherent charms and endemic problems. It is a relaxing tropical paradise and a sweltering chaos storm all at once. Hopefully this list will help you understand why we love this little powerhouse of a country so much and why it is being discovered by so many.
Currently my wife Nanelle, my daughter Emme and I live in a nice rental house in Colonio Escalon in San Salvador, El Salvador with our Salvadoran puppy named Freddy and a lot of wild geckos.
We sat down to list the things we love about living in El Salvador and while doing so, came up with a few aspects about life here that we are not so keen on. We would love to share them with you:
- The Weather: The weather in San Salvador is humid and warm, at la playa it is HOT, HOT HOT, and in the mountains it is cool and fresh. I love rain, and the rain here is amazing. The weather is not gentle, but it is dramatic! There are only two main seasons but in reality there are periods between each that provide variation. But you will never shovel snow again!
- The People: People everywhere are amazing if you let them be. In EL Salvador there are many opportunities to be amazing. Not all of them are opportunities anyone would knowingly choose, but for every negative headline, there is a Salvadoran pulling of amazing things with style and flair. There is a relaxed, but solid posture I’ve called the Salvadoran Swoop. The people of El Salvador are caring, friendly, open and relaxed while running at full speed.
- The Chaos: Chaos is not always a good thing, I mean….it is chaos after all. But there are some good things that come out of having a bit less control of everything. No it is not calm and boring to drive in San Salvador, but you never fall asleep while doing it! No you don’t want a bread salesman honking in front of your house in the morning, but you do like hot fresh bread right? Sometimes good things are the same ones you thought you would never choose for yourself. And since everyone assumes chaos is the rule things actually run FAR smoother than you would think.
- The Beaches: I am not a surfer, don’t really worship the sun, hate bathing suits and don’t like too much heat. But seriously, even I love the beaches here! There is more too it than the beautiful shape of the waves, the ability to walk right into the water, the best seafood I’ve ever had and the presence of a vibe that left southern California decades ago. That something more is undefinable. Many of the best beaches remain largely undeveloped, inexpensive, surprisingly underpopulated, and provide opportunities to really enjoy the ocean. Surfers around the world already know the beaches in El Salvador are some of the best in the world.
- The Mountains: The Mountains here hold more than the best coffee in the world. They are stunning, and the weather is amazing. For those who fear the heat, the mountains provide cool breezes (sometimes very strong winds). Tourism in the mountains of El Salvador is at an in-between phase. A very short time ago the facilities existed, but an extranjero would have trouble finding them. Now, the hotels, restaurants, zip-lines, horse-back tours, gastronomic fairs, etc have gotten the hang of getting found, and it is more common (but still not common) to find English speaking assistance. Seriously get up to the mountain towns!
- The Flora: If you love fruit, you will love El Salvador! There are tropical fruit tress literally growing everywhere. Mango and banana trees appear every 10 meters it seems. There are tons of citrus, guava, papaya, mamay and tons of other crazy good fruit you have only dreamed about. And it grows wild and big. The flora and fauna of El Salvador is rich and varied but of course is centered around tropical varietals. But perhaps the strangest thing you will see in the mountains is the vast Cedar forests. Yes cedar trees.
- The Opportunity: Living in El Salvador is living in a land of rich and varied opportunities. Everything is an opportunity. At every turn you will have the opportunity to experience a new culture, new people, interesting ways of doing things and new ways of looking at life. El Salvador is a rich and vibrant place that is experiencing a rediscovery of itself. There are business opportunities by the busload, life opportunities by the cartload and fun and life to be seen everywhere in this small and intense country. If you love interesting free flowing people and opportunities for business and life that are unique but compelling then get your butt down here now. Trust us on this one: El Salvador is going to be rediscovered both locally and globally in the next few years.
- The Pace: The pace of El Salvador is both frenetic and relaxed all at once. It combines the best parts of fast paced big city living and California beach town relaxed all at once. Driving in El Salvador is unlike anything in the U.S. It is fast paced and energetic. Yes it is crazy and seems chaotic and it is. But it is also a lot like life in El Salvador. It seems fast and chaotic at first until you realize that you don’t really get cut off here, people don’t flip you off and they will generally let you in if you look like you are going somewhere. This is not a place for the faint of heart and the indecisive. Yes time here is VERY relative and manana means sometime tomorrow. Hardly anyone is in a rush (did we mention it’s hot?) which means that most everyone is relaxed and much happier. Relax, enjoy the moment and live. Drive like you mean it and just go where you want to go and then when you arrive (whenever) kick back in your hammock and drink a licuado with friends. After all you are in freaking El Salvador! You have already arrived!
And the 3 things we are not so hot on about El Salvador.
- The Opportunity: Some of El Salvador’s strengths are also its weaknesses. The same opportunities and traits that make it such a great place to explore, live and grow are also the same things that will bring frustration and fear to some. Yes, the capital San Salvador is amazingly Americanized with McDonald and Pizza huts everywhere. but that is only skin deep. (go into a Pizza Hut here and you will be freaked out, trust me) At heart this is the real LA (Latin America), yes there is a lot of love and Americanization here but if you are not willing and able to fully immerse yourself and be Salvadoreno you will dislike it here eventually. And because there are so many business opportunities that means that even with a very developed economy not everything is as easy or fast as you may be used to. And in regards to choice: forget about it. There are so many things here that are near monopolies it’s funny. But that is changing so hang on.
- The Chaos: It is freaking CRAZY here! It often feels as if there are NO rules and no laws. And quite often few people follow the few there are. Park in the middle of the street? Of course! 4 different random guys directing traffic in different ways on a busy street? How else you gonna find a place to park in the middle of the street? Vendors that build permanent metal structures wall to wall and completely block all the businesses that are actually paying rent behind them? A guys gotta feed his family! Even in seemingly simple transactions like getting cable TV for your house seem to be ruled by chaos. You absolutely MUST let go of your assumption that anything will be a certain way. Streets close randomly without warning, the water turns off for a few hours all the time and there is simply NO way to get an address or directions to anything. You just gotta know to go. If you are not completely comfortable riding standing up in the back of a pickup truck racing up the face of a mountain then you might want to visit somewhere more mild and sedate.
- The Pace: Time is absolutely relative in El Salvador. When someone tells you that they will meet you manana they almost certainly do NOT mean first thing in the morning. And they most likely meant sometime tomorrow. (Anywhere you live that involves walking for a few hours to try and catch a random bus for another few hours tends to breed a looseness with time) Nothing happens quickly here. Relax and enjoy it if you can. But if you like nice regimented timetables and hour by hour schedules you will be a nervous wreck within a fortnight. If you expect the store to actually open at 9:00 like the sign says and get upset if it is not open at 9:12 then avoid all of Latin America. And the flip side of the pace is the speed and intensity. Driving is crazy fun! it is fast and swervy and hardly ever stops. There are more redondels than stoplights and if you can go people do. Avoid Latin America if you have a high regard for timeliness and order. It is there of course but neither are held in high regard. We are all too busy living and laughing to check our watches quite as often as we used to. Bottom line is that living in El Salvador is not for the faint of heart, the time obsessed or the anxious. But if you have a spirit of adventure and a bit of cowboy/cowgirl you will likely love it here. We sure do.
About the authors: Andy and Nanelle Newbom are American expats living in El Salvador. Visit http://www.Whatsupelsalvador.com and join a 43 year old former Ballet Dancer and Police Officer, her Coffee-Roasting, beer-brewing, husband and their 5 year-old daughter on their move to El Salvador, as they head through customs, find a home, enjoy daily living and explore the country; advising you all the way. Living life in El Salvador as American expats and loving it. If you are interested in the weather in El Salvador, El Salvador culture, or are looking to travel to El Salvador then join the fun.
Other links and resources for Living in El Salvador:
Medical Tourism In El Salvador
Self Service shipping to El Salvador